ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — D.J. Williams burst out of his stance and put a lick on one of his teammates during a block-and-shed drill with the rest of the Denver Broncos linebackers Monday.
It sure beat the standing around, decoying and sprinting he's had to do so far.
"That was a great freakin' block by D.J.," declared his position coach, Richard Smith, who briefly halted the proceedings to admonish the other linebackers to take note and adjust accordingly.
Seeing Williams let loose came as no surprise given that Denver's leading tackler in five of his eight pro seasons has been relegated to the back of the line at training camp.
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Williams is facing a six-game drug suspension to start the season plus an Aug. 15 drunken driving trial that could add even more games to his punishment, so the Broncos are getting his replacements ready instead.
Coach John Fox declared at the start of camp that Williams won't get any work with the starters as he awaits his suspension, so he's spent his time watching backups prepare for more than rotational roles at weakside linebacker.
Former University of Kentucky standout Wesley Woodyard is getting first crack at Williams' job, followed by backup middle linebacker Nate Irving, who made just one tackle in his first pro season last year, and head-turning rookie Danny Trevathan, another ex-Cat.
Woodyard, a fifth-year pro, is coming off his best season yet, one in which he piled up career highs in tackles (97), starts (seven) and forced fumbles (two) while replacing middle linebacker Joe Mays on passing downs and making spot starts for an injured Williams.
"He's a veteran guy, he's done it before," Smith said. "So, on the depth chart he's penciled in there right now at No. 1. But these things are evaluated not only in practice but in games. So, we've got enough pre-season games to find out who's going to be the starter at that position."
Woodyard signed a two-year, $3.5 million contract this off-season. That may not be starter's money in today's NFL, but Woodyard has his sights set on joining Mays and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller atop the Broncos' depth chart, regardless of Williams' status.
"Whether or not he was sitting out, we're all coming in here to compete for a starting spot," Woodyard said. "Any time I have an opportunity in front of me, I want to take it and run with it."
The versatile Irving fell behind in training camp last year and never pushed for meaningful playing time, but the Broncos are still high on him.
Trevathan, a sixth-round pick who led the SEC in tackles each of the last two seasons, could leapfrog both Irving and Woodyard to win Williams' job, Smith said.
Trevathan slipped in the draft, Smith figures, because of a poor 40-yard time at the NFL combine, but he said Trevathan was nursing a slight hamstring strain that slowed him down.
"He was much faster on film," Smith said. "You watch him on film, he was a playmaking machine. It might be a steal in terms of where we drafted him. This guy's an extremely instinctive football player. He's done a great job during OTAs. Right now he's running with the 2s and he's going to be helping us in our sub package.
"Maybe he'll be able to unseat everybody at that will linebacker position and be an every-down player," Smith said. "If it happens, that's a big load on a young guy. Maybe he can handle it. We'll wait and see."
Trevathan said he's gotten plenty of advice from the veterans while working with the first-team defense.
"Those older guys are always going to be behind us to help us with whatever we need, even D.J.," Trevathan said. "D.J. is a guy that has really been helping me. We play the same position. So, it's been a real blessing to have that guy behind me."